When Debbie Hoffmann’s children were young and she decided to stop working, she began to feel a need to give back. Being “the kind of person who is all in,” after a couple decades of hard work for several community and activist groups, most namely the National Council of Jewish Women, she became the national president of that group in 2014.

“I knew that it was something that I could do, and I knew I could do a good job, and luckily I had the opportunity,” she said. 

NCJW, which also has a Cleveland chapter, advocates for social change and works on issues such as reproductive justice, civil rights, Israeli women’s issues, sex trafficking and violence prevention.

During Hoffmann’s three-year tenure as president, along with having opportunities to visit and work at the White House and with other organizations to create change, she also said it was important for her to reclaim the Jewish values piece of her organization.

“For a long time the Jewish-ness of NCJW was kind of on the backburner, we didn’t really talk about it,” she said. “Of course, we’ve always talked about giving back, tikkun olam ... but it’s about more than that. Our values are based on the concept from the Torah that education is crucial and that everyone should be  respected.

“For me, that is what makes NCJW so unique and why we are so effective.”

While president, Hoffmann said the organization worked toward a forward-thinking strategic plan and revamping its messaging. She said former President Barack Obama also allowed the group to be influential during his – and Hoffmann’s – terms, as part of a women’s council. 

Hoffmann, who has a master’s degree in learning disabilities, also is board emeritus and a past board chair of Council Gardens, past chair of the now-defunct Diabetes Partnership of Greater Cleveland and a former member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as vice president of the Cleveland Jewish News Foundation Board of Directors. However, after finishing her term as NCJW president in March, Hoffmann said she’s still “looking for her next thing,” adding that she sees so much that needs to be done both in the community, and on a national scale.

When asked if she has advice for others looking to get involved, she simply said, “just go out there, be out there, do something.” 

– Amanda Koehn

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